He Couldn’t Say No To The Manson Family

Part 2 of our story about rancher George Spahn

Read Part 1, above.

In the summer of 1968, Charles Manson and members of his Family (a communal anti-establishment group) came to stay at Spahn Ranch, a 500-acre property north of Los Angeles formerly used by film and television studios as a backdrop for Westerns. By the late ’60s however, Spahn Ranch was in poor condition. Westerns had fallen out of fashion with viewing audiences, owner George Spahn was several years in arrears on his taxes and couldn’t afford to pay his hired help, and he was subsisting off of rented pony rides.

Spahn Ranch

The Manson Family came along and asked for a place to stay in exchange for free labor. They promised to help clean up the property and make sure George was well cared-for.

They also helped him with a significant chunk of his tax debt. A woman named Joan Wildebush joined the Family that summer and donated by a van a $16,000 cash — money that was given to George to pay the IRS.

But by the end of that summer, so many people had congregated to Spahn Ranch as part of the collective Manson Family. In early October, after Susan Atkins gave birth to a baby boy at the property, Charlie realized he had tested George’s patience too far. When a new member joined (Catherine Gillies) whose family owned a house in Death Valley, Manson made plans to move his group to Myers Ranch.

He left a few people behind at Spahn’s however. He knew that the ranch was still a good backup location, and didn’t want to completely abandon his options there. So he made sure that somebody stayed with George and kept him company. For Manson, it was a good way to ensure that he was kept up-to-date on any news about Spahn and the ranch.

George Spahn

But by late-November, he was ready to return to Los Angeles. A bad day in the desert led to a recommitment to his music career and he decided to head back to L.A. to get in touch with his strongest musical contacts — Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson, talent scout Gregg Jakobson and Columbia Records producer Terry Melcher. Unfortunately, Wilson was on tour with his band and neither of the other two men had anything promising to offer Charlie at that moment.

And he got more bad news when he checked in at Spahn Ranch. Speculators had been seen around the property. Corporate types, the ranch hands told him. Manson worried that the speculators were looking to monetize Spahn Ranch. He feared that George was considering their offers. In time, Charlie learned he was right.

He switched out the women staying with George, and the rest of the Family rented a house in Canoga Park. But it was a modest two-story home and the Family had grown to about two dozen members and the Canoga Park house quickly became cramped. So Charlie sent one of his most loyal followers, Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme to Spahn Ranch, to see if she could persuade George to let them return. Spahn’s son Jim later scolded his dad for his weakness, but George acquiesced to Squeaky’s charms. They could come back.

The Family returned to Spahn Ranch in March 1969. But George’s financial woes were not over, despite the generous $16k gift he received the previous summer. At his son’s urging, George met with his neighbor, Frank Retz, who wanted to buy part of the property. That June, Spahn agreed to sell part of his ranch to Retz. He also gave his neighbor power of attorney over the entire property and told him that part of the arrangement was to get the Manson Family out of there.

On June 30th, Frank Retz found Charlie and several others lying on the ground in the farmhouse. He ordered them off the property and called the cops.

Several times in June, July and early August, Retz spoke to Spahn about the Family in the presence of Squeaky Fromme. Someone recommended that Retz employ Shorty Shea as a watchman. Shorty had been a ranch hand on and off at the property for several years and was always looking for extra work. He spoke to Retz and concurred that Charlie and his group needed to leave. This is likely the first time Manson was given information that led him to believe that Shea had it in for him.

George Spahn later claimed that Manson once forced him to sit in a chair for several hours while he held lit matches in front of his face. He also threw punches in his direction, never actually hitting the elder man. Finally, after three hours, the door opened and Spahn heard Manson depart. George remained seated, in the dark, afraid to move. Finally, he reached out with his hand and found Manson’s head. Charlie whispered, ‘I’m still here, George’.

The Manson Family murders occurred on July 26th (Hinman), August 9/10 (Tate/LaBianca) and August 26th (Shea). On August 16th, the ranch was also raided by over 100 law enforcement officers on charges of auto theft, drugs, stolen credit cards and other suspected crimes. Even though the Family were released two days later on a technicality, Charlie again knew that he had tested old George’s patience.

Photograph of the August 16th Spahn Ranch raid.
In this photograph of the Spahn Ranch raid, Charles Manson is the one handcuffed and lying face down on the ground. Squeaky Fromme is pictured in the floral shirt, holding the dog and looking at Manson.
During the raid, the babies were taken by deputies and placed in foster care. Susan Atkins (wearing a kerchief on her head) holds one of those babies.

Manson again arranged to move nearly everyone back to Death Valley. This time, he left three women at Spahn Ranch: Catherine Gillies, Susan Bartell and Colleen Sinclair.

George was still committed to selling his property. Unfortunately, he had no idea of knowing that ten killings would be associated with his land, eventually killing the deal with Frank Retz to buy Spahn Ranch. By the following summer, when Charlie and several others were on trial for murder, George was still letting members of the Family stay at his ranch.

I will conclude this story within the week and tell you about George’s final years. Thanks, everyone!

You can learn more about the Manson Family and their crimes by visiting MansonFamily.net.

Written by

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

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